By Amber Mabe
The moment your feet cross the threshold of the Carolina Field of Honor in Triad Park, you are struck with a sense of awe and reverence. Obelisks tower above you like guardians pointing to the heavens. Glassy pools of water urge the mind toward reflection. Cascading waterfalls bring a sense of peace and serenity, adding a softness to the granite memorial. The 8-acre memorial is the largest Veterans Memorial on the eastern coast of the United States, and stands as a fitting tribute to the over 18 million veterans living today, and those who have gone on before them.
With over 150,000 veterans living in the Triad area, it comes as no surprise that the community was eager to honor these men and women who had sacrificed so much for the sake of their country. From its inception, the Carolina Field of Honor has been bringing people together over a common bond. Rob O’Hanlon, former chairman of the board for the memorial, says it was incredible to see politicians and community leaders excited about the project. “It is amazing to see what the memorial means to people in the community, whether they are military or not military.”
Despite being told there was little chance that they could raise the 5 million dollars needed for the project, Rob, Bill Moss, Jim Burgio and many others worked hard to make their vision a reality. “We looked at each other and decided, ‘you know what, we are going to make this happen,’” said Rob. “We had no idea if we could raise the money. We just knew we had to.” Early setbacks and even tragedy, including the passing of Marine Veteran Rich Brenner on the very first night of fundraising, did not stop the memorial dream from becoming a reality.
Now the monument stands as we know it today, towering obelisks of solid Mount Airy granite, and over 8,000 Virginia Mist pavers, all with their own story to tell. Stories like that of William “Doc” Long, WWII Veteran and longtime Kernersville resident, who lay in the snowy battlefield in France for 18 hours before grave detail found him alive. “It’s the stories behind every name, that’s what makes it so great,” says Rob.
At first glance, the Carolina Field of Honor is simple and serene, but if you look closely, it is teeming with information. Current chairman of the board, Scott Matthews, says it only takes an hour and fifteen minutes to read all of the obelisks and the quotes on the fountain, but that the experience is an important one. “This is a different generation and time,” says Scott, “We have been fighting the war against terrorism for a long time, but it is interesting how much people do not know about veterans. So this is a way to educate young and old, and to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
The monument is full of educational features, including the history at each flag’s base on the walk of flags, the history of each military branch on the back of their respective memorial, as well as the obelisk quotes and pavers. The Carolina Field of Honor website even has a quiz feature to test your knowledge. This makes the memorial a great place for students young and old, or for families to learn together. Although the memorial itself is complete, plans are in the works to add features for vision impaired visitors, and eventually an audio tour that will be updated as history progresses. “We built this memorial to honor all those who served, who are serving, and who will serve,” says Rob, “and we also built it to educate our community and Americans on those sacrifices.”
In the digital age, the physical presence of this memorial creates an opportunity to connect with veterans in a way that is personal and tactile. One of the best things the Carolina Field of Honor has done is to bring veterans together, not only with each other, but with people in the community. Rob has witnessed reunions, veterans making new connections, and even a proposal from a young Airman to his girlfriend. Every year, thousands of people attend the annual Memorial and Veterans’ day ceremonies. Scott says that is what makes the Carolina Field of Honor special. “People are always meeting and greeting each other, asking where they have been, what they have done, and what they are doing now,” he says. People from all walks of life who have chosen to serve in the military at some point are crossing social boundaries and sharing in a common bond. “It is amazing to see it every time you go out to one of these events,” Scott says, “I don’t know where else you see that.”
Perhaps you never served in the military, and you wonder how you can support your local veterans or find ways to connect with veterans on a personal level. Rob and Scott say there are many ways to connect with veterans. Research local veterans’ organizations and look for opportunities to donate or volunteer, visit a national cemetery, or participate in programs such as Wreath’s Across America, happening in December. “Fly an American flag,” says Scott, “the park is open, so please feel free to go out there on your own and visit or pay homage, whichever way you like.” And while you are visiting the memorial, take the time to talk to a veteran who may be there, and ask them about their story. “If anyone says a Veteran does not want to talk about their experience, that is a myth,” says Rob. “Veterans have experienced things many Americans will never experience themselves.” Learning about the history of our country and the reasons we have the freedoms we do should be a priority. Rob says, “Come to the Carolina Field of Honor, find a veteran, and ask them about their story.” The most important thing is to never forget these men and women, and the sacrifices they have made to make our country what it is today.
Visit the Carolina Field of Honor in Triad Park or go to
www.CarolinaFieldofHonor.org for more information.